Generation YouTube: Subscribe to my channel is the new cowabunga, dudes

By on January 17, 2018

I see and hear about the Youtube effect on young kids pretty regularly. (PHOTO: aisletwentytwo via Flickr Creative Commons)

A few months back, I was meeting up with a family friend for lunch. It had been a while since I had seen this family friend, long enough for her to have a child who was a little walking and talking human, which also meant that he was old enough to operate a smartphone. Like many kids his age, little dude loves unboxing videos and can’t get enough of them.

Something amazing happened as we were saying our goodbyes, something I laugh about every time I think about it. I bent down and stuck out my hand for the little guy to give me a fistbump, which he did before telling my, “Bye! Don’t forget to like and subscribe to my video!”

I lost my damn mind. I laughed so hard it was probably insulting, but I couldn’t help it. While I’m aware of how much of my own speech is influenced by the media I’ve been consuming recently, it never occurred to me that if you spent a good chunk of time watching YouTube personalities you’d of course think that the proper way to end an interaction with someone is to solicit their approval for proper monetization purposes.

I see and hear about the YouTube effect on young kids pretty regularly. I have some young family members who frequently beg for access to the smartphone of any nearby adult who isn’t buried in social media so that they can make videos for their own videos for their nonexistent YouTube channel. People get their phones back hours later, their memory eaten up by dozens of short clips of nothing, the faces of the children front and center.

These kids still love toys, of course. They build Lego sets. They ask for figures for the different franchises they obsess over. They have scooters and other things with wheels to potentially injure themselves on. Their childhood isn’t really that different from mine broadly speaking, and is saying “cowabunga!” really any sillier than “like and subscribe to my video!” when it comes to cultural seepage?

Perhaps I would feel different if I was a parent and I viewed these behaviors as a reflection of my competence at raising a human. I assume there are people out there that would be confused as hell if tiny human told them to like their videos out of the blue, and would be doubly confused if you tried to explain the concept of unboxing videos and YouTube monetization. They’d probably raise an eyebrow if you said that it’s something a ton of little kids do, then gossip about it with their friends later.

But I’m not a parent, and I understand the Internet, so this behavior just makes me laugh, and makes the part of me that remembers what it was like to be young in a middle class family a little jealous. See, I was one of those kids who’d obsess over toy store adverts as the holidays got closer. Sit me down with one of those Toys “R” Us holiday gift guides and I’d look all those pages up and down for things I wish I owned.

What I’m saying is that unboxing videos would have extremely been my shit if they existed when I was a kid. I would have loved to have seen what the toys I wished were mine were really like. So I get why kids are into them and why people are making serious bank playing with toys online.

That said, I have a lot of questions about what the long term effect of YouTube exposure will end up being. Cynically I wonder if it’s creating a generation of people that will be more cynical.

Consider that advertising is largely selling you an illusion, whether the product is a toy, a coffee creamer, adult diapers or medication. Advertising is the ultimate “you’ve got to spend money to make money” hustle, and consumers used to buy stuff on leaps of faith without even realizing that was what they were doing.

Now, of course, the game has changed, and if you don’t know what you’re actually buying when you buy it that’s on you. And for kids, that means seeing videos that show them what the toys they’ve seen advertised or in store are really like. Sure, sometimes those toys are going to live up to the hype, but not always. Discovering that what you’re being sold isn’t always what you get is a valuable lesson to learn, one worth some awkward goodbyes here and there.

And if they don’t learn that, at least maybe they’ll learn how to market themselves in an increasingly shrinking job market. These kids have got to start learning now if they’re going to have any chance of having a future. There are only so many likes to go around. PJH

 

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